Normally when a National Hockey League team is making a late season playoff push everyone looks towards their star players. For the Toronto Maple Leafs, that would be Phil Kessel, Mikhail Grabovski, Dion Phaneuf and Clarke MacArthur. However, it has been the exact opposite for the Maple Leafs.
While Kessel, Grabovski, Phaneuf, MacArthur and others have continued their outstanding play, players such as Joey Crabb, Keith Aulie, Darryl Boyce, Tim Brent, James Reimer and now, if you will, Nazem Kadri have been key to the Leafs’ success.
Crabb and Boyce, both mid-season AHL call ups, had to spend a lot of time in the minor leagues before finally getting a legitimate chance at playing in the NHL. Both have taken that chance in stride and have proven that they deserve to be the Leafs’ lineup during this late season playoff push; that is if you still like to think the Leafs have a good chance at making the playoffs.
Crabb, 27, has played in 39 games with the Leafs this season and has three goals and ten assists for total of 13 points. His hustle and heart appears to have rubbed off on some of his Leafs teammates, as even high paid players like Phil Kessel, who doesn’t usually play that well in his own end, have improved their play at both ends of the rink.
Boyce, 26, has four goals, eight assists and a plus-8 rating in 38 games with the Leafs this season. He has shown that he is not afraid to throw his body around, and that he’s not going to miss too much time after a silly little cut.
A lot like Boyce, Brent has been a great addition to the Leafs’ energy line. He has been one of their best penalty killers and is not afraid to take one for the team, and then clear the zone.
Another one of the Leafs’ lesser lights who is not afraid to take one for the team is rookie defenceman Keith Aulie. In 31 games with the Leafs this season, Aulie has 26 penalty minutes; ten more than he would normally have because he has dropped the gloves twice this season, including Thursday night against Florida. Aulie also scored a goal on Saturday night, giving him two on the season.
He has also been one of the Leafs’ most solid defencemen alongside Dion Phaneuf.
Like Aulie, Nazem Kadri scored on Saturday night. It was the first of his NHL career, and it took what some might call a frustrating 21 games. In 20 games this season, Kadri has one goal and seven assists. His play has been improving all season long, but he is still learning how to transition from a junior and minor league player to a full-time NHLer.
Last but certainly not least, James Reimer has without a doubt been the most impressive of the six. In 28 games this season, the Morweena, Manitoba native has a record of 15-7-4, a goals against average of 2.59 and a save percentage of .922. Those statistics are almost a mirror image of his AHL ones; Reimer has a 2.59 GAA and .920 save percentage in 15 games with the Toronto Marlies this season.
As a 23-year-old, one would have to think that he is only going to improve. Now the Maple Leafs’ official starting goalie, Reimer is going to get every chance to play from here on out.
When put together, those six players─maybe with the exception of Kadri─have been just as productive as the Leafs’ top-six players. Maybe not in terms of statistics, but when it all comes down to it, every team needs players who go out and give it all they have night in and night out.
The Maple Leafs have those players.